Internship immerses undergraduates in quantum research at Princeton and IBM

Written by
Molly Sharlach
Nov. 22, 2022

Laura Futamura spent her summer internship analyzing ghostly particles and crafting microscopic diamonds, but one of the most memorable moments came in a parking lot. Waiting out a fire drill outside IBM’s research center in Yorktown Heights, New York, Futamura spotted Talia Gershon, the host of a popular YouTube video explaining quantum computing.

“That video is what got me into quantum computing,” Futamura, a rising junior at Stanford University, told Gershon before posing for a selfie with the IBM scientist. “Meeting her during the program was really cool.”

Fostering such connections is an important part of a joint internship program with IBM called Quantum Undergraduate Research at IBM and Princeton (QURIP). Interns from colleges and universities throughout the United States spend six weeks at Princeton followed by six weeks at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center. The program is competitive — in 2022, 10 students were selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants.

It’s a rigorous research experience, said Nathalie de Leon, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Princeton. “We have had students win awards at major research conferences based on their work at QURIP, and several have been authors on academic papers — both rare achievements for summer research, and all the more remarkable given the fast pace.” De Leon cofounded the program in 2019 with Pat Gumann, manager of quantum processor and system integration at IBM Research.

IBM Research is expanding its education and outreach in response to a critical need for skilled workers to advance quantum technology, Gumann said. Building on the success of QURIP, IBM recently launched a similar program with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

At Princeton, students conduct research with faculty mentors from the departments of electrical and computer engineering, computer science, physics, and chemistry, often working closely with graduate students or postdoctoral researchers. While the students are on campus, the Princeton Quantum Initiative, with support from the University’s materials institute, hosts a weekly quantum seminar for Princeton faculty members to share their latest research, and a Distinguished Quantum Seminar featuring a guest speaker. The Princeton portion of the program culminates in a poster session where QURIP students and Princeton researchers present their work.

The QURIP program is funded by IBM, with additional support from the Princeton Institute of Materials and the Princeton Quantum Initiative.

Applications for the 2023 QURIP program are due Jan. 15. For details, visit https://www.ibm.com/quantum/qurip.